THE number of coronavirus tests carried out in Scotland has halved in just three days, according to the latest official figures.

Scottish Government statistics show the number of tests fell from 5,472 last Thursday to just 2,729 on Sunday, less than 18 per cent of the country’s capacity of 15,500.

Sunday’s figure was 500 less than Saturday’s 3,229, which was 1,096 less than Friday’s 4,325, which was in turn 1,147 less than on Thursday.

The last time the number of tests was lower than on Sunday was April 27, when 2,627 were conducted.

However capacity then was 8,350 so today’s figures is lower as a proportion of capacity. 

The most tests ever conducted in a day north of the border was 6,519 in May 15.

Between Thursday and Sunday, tests conducted by NHS labs in hospitals, care homes or the community more than halved, from 4,235 to 2,096.

Drive through and mobile tests carried out by the Army-led Regional Testing Centres also slumped, from 1,237 to 633.

The dramatic decline in tests coincides with the start of the new Test and Protect, the cornerstone of the Government’s plan to start easing the lockdown restrictions.

People with symptoms are being asked to notify the NHS and get a test, and pass on details of their close contacts, who will also be asked to isolate at home.

All 40,000 care home staff in Scotland are also being offered routine testing to help reduce infections among residents, who account for almost half of Scotland’s Covid deaths so far.

Cancer Research UK today called for an extra 1,700 to 3,000 tests per day were needed for the safe return of cancer services suspended for the lockdown.

The charity said the greater testing would ensure staff and facilities dealing with cancer patients, who are more vulnerable to Covid, could be kept free of the virus.

Asked at the Scottish Government daily briefing about the low levels of tests compared to capacity, Nicola Sturgeon she would look at Cancer Research UK’s comments. 

She went on: “Our approach to testing continues to be driven by clinical advice. 

“The questions around routine testing, which is addition to symptomatic testing for people who come forward through Test and Protect because they’ve got symptoms, these are issues that are under consideration.

“We’ve already extended our approach in care homes, and the issue within the NHS is something we continue to look at and consider.”

Opposition parties called for immediate improvements in testing.

Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said: “For weeks now the SNP government has been told to carry out more tests to help Scotland beat this virus.

“But instead, the number has now plummeted to the lowest since this new drive began.

“That’s alarming and points to huge failings on testing at the hands of this SNP government.

“It was clear weeks ago that the SNP couldn’t just stand and wait for people to come to them, and it had to get out and take these tests to those who need it most.

“That hasn’t happened, and there’s been no explanation as to why.

“If the SNP doesn’t get its house in order in terms of testing, more people will die and Scotland’s move out of lockdown will be put in jeopardy.”

Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard said: "Scotland is lagging far behind other nations in expanding testing, many of which have recorded fewer deaths from the virus. 

“It is clear that the central role of testing in our strategy for defeating the virus should never have been abandoned.

"Even as the Scottish Government begins to ease the lockdown, testing remains far too low, with less than half the number of tests intended actually carried out. 

"As we ease lockdown we risk endangering lives through a combination of looser restrictions and little testing. If we are to introduce the ‘Test, Trace and Isolate’ approach that we badly need testing must be expanded dramatically."

Scottish Green MSP Alison Johnstone added: “The World Health Organisation has told us to test, test, test.

"Experts here support these calls. It remains a mystery why we’re shunning an approach which has proved successful in countries near and far.

"Relentless testing has helped the likes of New Zealand and the Faroes get on top of this virus. All we’ve seen is relentless excuses.”

The UK Government carried out around 115,000 tests out of a capacity of 200,000 on Saturday.

The Scottish Government has been asked for comment.